Rising and Advancing

It’s a staggering and somewhat melancholy forty years since our local corner shop/ newsagent stocked this comic:

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I’d read of Marvel’s plans for a Fu Manchu title in the third issue of Foom Magazine but didn’t glimpse the finished product until the fourth-by which time the period malefactions of the Oriental fiend had been supplanted by the then-current Kung Fu media craze.

More recently, I read that Marvel’s trippy Kozmic crew were inspired by the sight of a NYC office block to craft their tale of the young philosopher/ assassin and his war against his father, the Devil Doctor. Like many of his other characters- Mar-Vell, Mantis, Kilowog and Hank Pym- Englehart was interested in the Rising and Advancing of Shang-Chi: replacing one world view with a completely different one.  While perhaps a metaphor for altering one’s consciousness chemically, it’s nonetheless a laudably Aquarian ambition for “Long Underwear” creations. 

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I discovered the other day, coincidentally, that the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu movies weren’t shown on BBC tv until March 1975. Yet I must have seen the lurid and febrile Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) before that in some late night STV slot, since I knew something about the shadowy Si-Fan and its leader’s predilections for posionous reptiles, insects and killer fungus.

Compared to Ditko’s psychedelic cartooning in  Dr. Strange and the rather staid Flash Gordon- stylings of Heck’s Avengers ( the first stories I ever saw as a child). Master of Kung Fu was a wildly exciting, dark , violent  and modern strip.

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However, since Starlin and Englehart quickly departed from the MOKF series, I lost some of my interest in the increasingly routine Chop Sockey fights.  When Iron Fist (by Thomas and Kane)  appeared in September ’74’s Avengers weekly , I was grabbed by this cruelly-edged, more super -heroic take on the Martial Arts genre.  I didn’t really become excited by Shang’s journeys until the Bond-ian sci-fantasy of Moench and Gulacy’s Mordillo storyline.

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The very first colour issue I read was bought in Stonehouse Hospital’s shop in the spring of 1977. it was a Dreaded Deadline Doom fill-in with a Gulacy reprint. The second came in a grab-bag purchased in a Morecambe newspaper & toy shop in the summer of 78. The photo-realism and the unstintingly mature espionage angle really grabbed me.

This was the first time I had seen Fu on model as Christopher Lee.  I also realised that Reston was Sean Connery. Gulacy and Moench’s “Magnum Opus” featured several celebrity lookalikes, from Marlon Brando and Marlene Dietrich to David Niven and climaxed in Fu’s wild scheme to destroy the Moon.  

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A year or so later, my brother bought an issue in Glasgow featuring the return of the electrified Shock wave: a villain rejoicing in the faintly Steed and Mrs. Peel name, Lancaster Sneed. He also reminds me too much of Wildfire, Cockrum’s Marvel-ous transplant in the LSH.

I continued to be aware of Master of Kung Fu and its subsequent revivals- in the late 80s bi-weekly Marvel Comics Presents and the 2002 Marvel Max line. But the sequels missed something of  the headiness of the first, cinematic Gulacy Era. Without the now -lapsed rights to Rohmer’s characters,  Shang’s father has been recast as Zheng Zu, losing the potency of Fu but understandably so given modern cultural sensitivity.

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Shang-Chi also popped up in the Ultimate Universe with a reimagined Iron Fist but neither of these modernised iterations had the vitality or strangeness of the originals.

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And in 2012, Shang-Chi finally did join the Avengers as part of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers World. Like the much earlier Karate Kid in the Legion of Super Heroes, a hand-to-hand combatant doesn’t really mesh well in a large cast of superhumans and god-like aliens. However, it’s good to see a wider range of ethnicities in the grouping.

The whole issue of racial stereotyping and cariacature means that Yellow Peril villains like Marvel’s Mandarin or Doctor Who’s Celestial Toymaker are quite rightfully consigned to history. But in a way, the mythical nature of Shang-Chi’s conflict is neutered without the arch fiend Fu Manchu.

In his Lost Generation and Hidden Years series for Marvel, John Byrne simply reworked Joe Maneely’s Yellow Claw as The Claw.  Perhaps Marvel might consider folding Fu and the Fu- Manque  Claw into one?

Coming Soon: The Ballad of Batman.

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The Laughing Young Daredevil

I am looking forward to getting my hands on IDW’s reprint of the Sixties Batman newspaper strips. Reprinted in the UK on the front cover of Smash! weekly, they -and the TV Tornado text stories- form my earliest print memories of the Gotham Guardian. I was brought up on the Adam West series before I could actually read.

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This 80-pager- Batman 185 cover-dated Nov 1966- was my first experience of a Batman Giant. It was also released at the height of Bat-mania. The inside cover carries an ad for the movie and the back cover, one for the Aurora Batmobile and Batplane kits.

Inside the comic, there’s a tiny ad for “The Joker’s Original Robberies”- the very first issue of Batman bought for me. I may have got the B&B Metamorpho/ Bat-Hulk comic first though.

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The theme of the issue is stories that revolve around Robin.

Batman Jr:  Robin uncovers the secret of Batman’s first partner and become jealous and confused. John Vance was a school athlete whose Bat-identity was effectively a witness protection scheme. When the adult Vance joins the Dynamic Duo to wrap up the case, Robin’s anxieties are allayed.

Robin Falls in Love:…with Vera Lovely, a teenage ice skater. This is my second-favourite story: a fable about first love and the publicity-hungry media.

Robin’s New Boss: Mr. Marvel, a hooded crimefighter with fantastic weaponry is in fact an alien blackmailing Robin. This was my favourite as a kid but the alien’s “prank” now seems contrived.  Roy Thomas would probably have made the antenna-sporting alien a Durlan.

The Super Boy Wonder: a slick and modern-looking short by Jim Mooney, but it isn’t as inventive or charming as any of the other stories. Robin gains super-strength when he is the amnesiac captive of a Mayan tribe. This was my very first sighting of the Whirly-Bat.

The Boy Wonder Confesses: is a masquerade to foil another blackmail plot. This is my favourite as an adult- largely for the quirky appearance of the villain, Mr. Camera.

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Secret of the Ant Man: My first sighting of Ace, the Bat-Hound. Interestingly, the Henry Pym Ant Man predates the eponymous  character by about a year. This doll-sized Ant Man is a crook, shrunken in a freak chemical accident. Batman is off-camera in this tale because he’s involved in an experiment featured in…

Robin Dies at Dawn: Batman’s ordeal on an alien world of aggressive plants sees Robin killed by a living stone idol. The experience is an hallucination experienced at an astronaut testing project. But will it end the Caped Crusader’s effectiveness? This story is the springboard for Grant Morrison’s Batman RIP/ Black Glove story arc of 2008.

Often,  this scrappy circus kid is the victim of misunderstandings in this collection. His adolescent emotions are prey to casual adult cruelty-although it’s often unintentional. As an orphan ( in horrible circumstances), of course Dick Grayson is insecure!

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There were two other 80-page giants that loom very large in my early childhood. One featured the World’s Finest Heroes and I associate it with the long-gone Odeon picture house in Hamilton. It’s simply one of my favourite comics of all time. The second -another immortal favourite-reminds me of sunny afternoons in our back garden and the acrid stink of racing pigeon dung from my dad’s three lofts.

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The prominent placement of Batman illustrates how much of an impact the character was making. I love these wild, sci-fi team-ups against robots, alien tyrants and magical monsters – although I didn’t know then how indebted they were to the wartime exploits of the JSA.

Inside the comic, I should also mention the 2-page advert for “CBS Saturdays featuring Space Ghost; Dino Boy- a cartoon I’ve never seen- and the Impossibles/Frankenstein Jr. double bill, which I loved as a preschool child:

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Coming soon: yet more Batman Giants- at least four or five!

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A Little Gratitude Wouldn’t Irretrievably Damage My Ego

As  ever, the way time slips away shocks me. It’s thirty years since Colin Baker made his debut as the Sixth Doctor, the bullish, theatrical and quintessentially Eighties incarnation of the Time Lord: all scrunched blond frizz and tartan.

Baker’s two seasons as the Doctor are probably my least favourite at present: the series was in a terrible rut, desperate to impress a cult US audience; presented as two-part 45m stories that were garishly designed; with thin, irritating electronic music and a fractious, wrong-headed Doctor/ companion relationship.

Big Finish’s audio plays have done much rehabilitate the Doctor Who Was Fired- giving him a more avuncular persona with a number of foils, from genteel Evelyn Smythe; an increasingly wry Peri; golly-gosh Charley; the Eastenders refugee Flip and Bonnie Langford’s Mel. The Sixie adventure I’ve just listened to was released this time last year.

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The Seeds of War: Unfortunately, this is a rather dull space opera set in the aftermath of a war between Earth and its colonies and the Infinite Warriors of the Eminence: a mysterious, gaseous entity from the end of time. Aside from a David Cameron joke, this is a predictable tale of disaster and heroism that serves as a sequel to an as-yet-unreleased Fourth Doctor story. Time-frickin’-wimey!

The leads are good enough but everyone simply seems to be going through the motions. The Eminence is a suitable villain for audio since it’s basically a sinister but Gareth Roberts made cloud-villains somewhat comic in The English Way of Death and Bang-Bang-A-Boom. (2/5 Talmars)

BF’s Dr. Who strand will be fifteen years old in July and it’s sounding a bit tired to me.

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In Mastermind, Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso (from Tales From the Vault) return as Ruth Matheson and Charlie Sato, UNIT personnel guarding an archive of alien artefacts and one prisoner- you can guess who. The guards interview the Gallifreyan jackanapes in an homage to Silence of the Lambs.

Since the renegade Time Lord narrates his misadventures on Earth from mafia godfather to Howard Hughes-style recluse, the audio feels overlong and predictable. Of course the Master hypnotises his guards and escapes. It’s also unclear how this cadaverous version (confusingly the suave and bearded Delgado master on the audiobook of Harvest of Time) relates to the incarnation heard in this next adventure:

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Dark Eyes 2: the first box set in this series won an award but for me it was an overlong Dalek adventure from Nicholas Briggs. It did however revitalise the grieving Eighth Doctor and set him up with a new companion: WWI nurse Molly. The sequel also features Daleks and sees the return of Liv Chenka from Briggs’ Robophobia and the fruity, bald incarnation of The Master from UNIT:Dominion.

While the fey but frightening Master’s scheme is rather gruesome (it involves eye surgery), the most interesting episode sees the Infinite Warriors return in an Alien-type scenario on a spaceship. However, the individual episodes don’t quite feel part of a whole. Liv Chenka isn’t all that interesting, frankly, and the Doctor is overshadowed by the Eminence and the Dalek Time Controller. Again, Molly is the best thing in it – feisty, direct and down-to-Earth. (3/5 Talmars) 

I’m undecided whether I want to hear the Eminence’s first/third appearance in the consistently underwhelming Fourth Doctor Adventures. DW is being better served in comics form. 

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Dead Man’s Hand: in 2004, BF announced that comics writer John Ostrander (Suicide Squad, Manhunter, Grimjack etc.) had written a Seventh Doctor/Ace/Hex audio. Some internet sources suggest it was a Wild Bill Hickock story. Tony Lee’s IDW serial  of the same name features an undead Hickock. Here though, the Eleventh Doctor ( he really is; let’s not be silly) and Clara also meet Calamity Jane and a morose Oscar Wilde in Deadwood. Wilde has to defend the Earth in the Eighth Doctor’s old clothes: an in-joke on two levels, since that outfit was a fancy dress Hickock costume anyway.

It’s a chapter too long and the Twelve Doctors scene is gratutitous especially since some likenesses are a bit off throughout the book. However, it’s a entertaining read if not dissimilar to A Town Called Mercy on tv.(4/5 Talmars)

Coming soon : Batman 66

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The Strange Lives of Batman and Robin

Today’s Batman post looks at the second 1966 Batman 80-page giant in my collection. It was a cover I saw many times in copies of 1966 DC Comics but I bought it only last week. Happily, it’s a pretty enjoyable collection. These are mostly stories with a mad scientist theme, although two are somewhat science-fictional.  This time, I’ve ranked the stories from most to least entertaining, rather than in publication order in the comic.

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The Joker Batman: Bats and the Joker swap bodies when exposed to an “epsilon ray” device. The Joker almost unmasks “himself” in a giant magnifying glass but Batman’s id is preserved.

The Villain of 100 Elements: lab assistant John Dolan becomes a bizarre foe whose powers antcipate Metamorpho. Batman is similarly transformed in this sci-fi tale. Batman and the Outsiders, one of my favourites in the mid-late-80s, featured an Elemental Woman as a member of Strike Force Kobra.

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 Batman Junior and Robin Senior: B’n’R are exposed to gases that reverse or increase age but also remove life experience. I felt this story was an influence on the grown-up Robin of the Brave and Bold tv series- more so than the rarely-seen JSA member of the Sixties -to-Eighties.

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The Experiment of Prof. Zero: the Dynamic Duo are reduced to doll-size via a shrinking ray concealed in the Bat-Signal. This 1949 adventure is older than the rest and reminded me of 1940’s horror, Dr. Cyclops– which feels like it should’ve been part of a BBC2 double bill but wasn’t, to my knowledge.

Batman, Robot: Robin attempts to cover up Batman’s “death” in a mine disaster rigged by the Night Owl Gang. The Robot Batman exhibits super- strength spinning a carousel, like the scene in Strangers on a Train. Otherwise, somewhat slow,

The Rainbow Batman: Batman wears different-coloured costumes to distract attention from Robin, injured as Dick Grayson. The eponymous variegated costume appears finally on the last two pages. A bit dull. I would have preferred a Batwoman adventure.

Next time, we’ll revisit the first 80-page Batman I ever read, as a small boy at the height of Bat-mania- and I may thrown in a couple of other Sixties Giants for fun.

Monsters Are Real

Two brief posts again this week: the first features new(ish) adventures for Patrick Troughton’s incarnation as Dr. Who ( my first and the best, if I’m honest)

Lords of the Red Planet: this is the last Big Finish  Lost story featuring the second Doctor and is primarily the work of Brian Hayles, who also brought us The Dark Planet and The Queen of Time. Like that latter story, Lords is set during the sixth season of Doctor Who and is the ancestor of the 1969 Ice Warrior sequel The Seeds of Death.

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Lords is also the Secret Origin of the wheezing armoured Martians: genetic experiments of an evil dictator of ancient Mars. Zaadur, like Hecuba, the eponymous Queen of Time, is a rare female villain for the Troughton Era. The story is a little too long, like most Troughton adventures and the giant rocket in the final episode is a very familiar plot device (cf The Dark Planet). The fairy tale rivalry between Zaadur and her sister also jars in a season which was, tonally, largely sci-fi whimsy. In the end, the foamy T-Mat tv adventures of the Tardis trio are more exciting.

Frazer Hines again provides his astonishing impression of the Second Doctor and voices Jamie, naturally. Sadly, winsome Wendy Padbury is sounding rather elderly as teenage Zoe but this undemanding sci-fantasy melodrama passed the lengthy train journey from Glasgow to Elgin.

The Web of Fear: last weekend, I finally got my hands on the dvd release of this long-lost 60s classic. As you’ll know by now, weeks before DW’s 50th birthday, there was a surprising announcement about b/w episodes retrieved from Nigeria. After appearing on Itunes ( a platform I don’t have) two Season Five serials were made available on dvd.

I watched The Enemy of the World over Xmas 2013 and was disappointed in this sprawling, gun-waving, futuristic spy adventure. I was somewhat anxious that I might feel the same way about Web but happily, it wasn’t the case.

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I first read the story as a Target novelization in 1976 but it was a firm favourite for re-reading on a rain-lashed caravan holiday in Lendalfoot in August 1978. It didn’t quite have the potency or exoticism of its predecessor, The Abominable Snowmen but I next encountered the story when its solitary surviving first episode turned up on a VHS box set in 2003. Shortly afterward, the soundtrack was released on dvd but it was a dull listening experience.

The story is best known perhaps for the introduction of Col. Lethbridge-Stewart- later the ramrod of UNIT: a clipped and icy porfessional here who nearly ends the story on the verge of breakdown. However, there are a number of other interesting supporting characters from doomed Craftsman Weems to the cowardly driver Evans and the pompous tv reporter, Chorley. Returning guest Jack Watling plays Prof. Travers as a barking old duffer but is less convincing as the instrument of the Great intelligence. The Lovercraftian menace is far more effective as a disembodied voice, whispering from a tannoy.

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The mark II Yeti, with their glowing lightbulb eyes, seem more Muppet-like than their bearish predecessors but they are actually quite effective in a well-directed battle set-piece. Troughton is magnificent, mysterious and otherworldly in close-up. My only complaint would be weedy Victoria, in her terrible hippy get-up, who is a poor role model compared  to posh and wry scientist Anne. Ultimately, to my relief, it’s a moody, atmospheric mystery in the adult vein of Quatermass; indeed, the blackened corpse of Arnold, the Intelligence’s puppet is quite shocking. (4/5 Talmars)

There is a batch of reprinted Doctor Who novels, including three from the 90s Virgin imprint on sale this month. it occurs to me, in the wake of World Book Day, that I never reviewed the eleven reprints released last year. I may remedy that situation next month but first:

Coming soon: the 30th anniversary of the Sixth Doctor

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Batman Swoops Down

I had long promised Batman posts: here is the second, which celebrates Batman as I first knew the character, in my early childhood. I was born in 1963 so I was a pre-schooler when the Adam West show was first broadcast in Scotland. My  memories of Batman from that time also inlude the newpaper strips reprinted as the covers of the weekly Smash! comic; the text stories in TV Tornado and assorted toys and novelties:

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Around 1967/68, I had a press-out book of cardboard characters, including a gun-toting snowman villain.

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I was also given this board game:

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My cousin Jim’s comic collection was handed down to me when he went to  High School in Galston in the early Seventies. it was a trove of obscure DC characters like Mark Merlin, Prince Ra-Man and Space Ranger- and the Computo issues of Adventure starring my beloved Legion of Super-Heroes. Somewhere in one of those seven-or-eight year old comics, I glimpsed an ad for Batman 176. There were four of the images from Batman Swoops Down!

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I recently added this comic to my collection and it’s the oldest Batman giant I own. It’s also a very entertaining  glimpse of Batman prior to the Silver Age.

Parasols of Plunder: the Penguin takes over a factory and tries to trick Batman into endorsing his umbrellas, This comical battle of wits is such a refreshing change from modern Batman’s obsession with torture and psychological horror.

The Fox, the Shark and the Vulture: the debut of the Terrible Trio, a gang of criminal inventors. Their striking appearance has seen them revived in animated Batman adventures. The diagram of their lighthouse lair is another element kids would like,

Ice Crimes of Mr. Zero: The human icicle appears to be cured by a blast from cracked steam pipes at the conclusion of this story. Like his tv incarnation, he has unusual eyebrows and prominent eyes. I wonder why he was renamed Mr. Freeze? it seems it took television to lunch the career of this strictly minor foe.

Catwoman Syndicated Story: reprints of a newpaper strip in which the Princess of Plunder defies Batman in a nationwide chase by train, plane and paddle steamer. Bizarrely, Robin disguises himself as “mischievous little girl, Lulu Belle”. The good Catwoman stories will feature in a future giant and a future post. 

Caveman at Large: a deranged actor believes himself to be Goth, Slayer of Beasts. An amusing Harryhausen-style twist on the “Trapped in the Batcave” theme.

Challenge of the Calendar Man: while nowadays yet another Hannibal Lecter type, Julian Day models seasonal costumes here: a floral costume for spring and most interestingly for me, that snowman suit. In the conclusion, he’s revealed to be a stage magician.

The Joker’s Utility Belt: a fun and gimmicky story; the schematic reveals sneezing powder,a  hand buzzer and exploding cigarettes among the devices used by the Crown Prince of Crime. In the conclsuion, the Joker is appointed foreman in the prosion belt factory. Holy irony! 

I’d certainly include the Calendar Man and Terrible Trio stories if I were compiling a collection of pre-New Look Bat adventures. Shortly, we’ll look at my first-ever Sixties 80-page giant,which featured Robin. I also plan to look at Bronze Age Batman and Mike Allred’s work on Batman 66.

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Little Purple Space Dog

There have been press announcements about new recurring character Danny Pink and the Titan comics written by my new favourite Al Ewing but I’m focusing on a short Dr. Who audio post today:

The King of Sontar: The Fourth Doctor and Leela arrive at the hq of Sontaran super-soldier Strang, played of course by Dan Starkey. I can remember next to nothing about this story aside from the guest appearance of 70s Saphhire & Steel star David Collings- and that Tom Baker suddenly sounds elderly. This range is turning out to be extremely disappointing. (1/5 Talmars)

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1963: The Space Race: the second installment of a Big Finish 50th anniversary trilogy, which takes the Sixth Doctor and Peri to the Sovite soace program. Essentially this is an animal rights story with a sci-fi setting. The central menace is competely ridiculous – clues lie in this post’s title and the missing cosmonaut’s question “What is red”? However, at times this audio is chilling and it has two terrific cliffhangers. It could never work on tv but it could as a modern comic book or even as a particularly batty novel. (4/5 Talmars)

1963: The Assassination Games: I won this disc in a DWM competition ( and the third time I’ve done so!). It’s a cross-over with BF’s Counter Measures series, which features a UNIT prototype organisation in the Sixties. The Seventh Doctor impersonates an MP in a parody of the Profumo Affair. An Illuminati-type group called The Light turns up late in the story but it’s a very workaday ending to the trilogy. Two duds from John Dorney in one post…(2/5 Talmars)

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Afterlife: Jean Boht guest stars as Hex’s granny in the sequel to the cosmic chess game Gods and Monsters. That gotterdammerung didn’t really work on audio and its aftermath is quite low-key and down to earth at first, as Ace and Seven come to terms with Hex’s self-sacrifice. However, embroiled in a gangland war in a near-future Liverpool, the greiving Ace encounters night club owner Hector…

Afterlife‘s supernatural elements reminded me of Whedon’s Angel and Philip Schofield plays Hex’s doppleganger with a slightly harsher edge. It’s a very interesting development for the character and occult storylines work well for McCoy’s Doctor. (5/5 Talmars) 

Coming soon: The Web of Fear and Dark Eyes 2

Next: Batman Swoops Down

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